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The New York State Legislature is on a progressive roll.
Its members recently passed the Reproduction Rights Acts, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already signed; it codifies into state law the protections of the Roe v. Wade decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973.
The legislature has also passed legislation allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers licenses from the state, which Cuomo has indicated he will sign. On January 23, the State Senate and the Assembly also passed the Jose Peralta New York DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act, named after the late state Senator Jose Peralta, whose parents emigrated from the Dominican Republic.
The DREAM Act, which had been blocked for years by the Republican-controlled Senate, passed by a margin of 40 to 20, now that the Democrats run the show. The bill will allow children in New York State to qualify for state aid to attend college through the New York State Tuition Assistance Program, regardless of immigration status.
For students to be eligible, they must have graduated from a high school in the state that the student has attended for at least two years, and applied for college within five years of graduating from high school or from a high school equivalency program.
Supporters say the legislation could impact the lives of as many as 45,000 undocumented immigrants who graduate from high school in the state each year but then are shut out of the educational system because they can’t afford the price of college.
Supporters say that immigrants who go to college will earn more money, participate more fully in the economy and pay more in taxes than those who don’t go to college.
“Immigrants make invaluable contributions to our state’s workforce, economy and the social fabric of our communities,” said Assemblymember Victor Pichardo, chair of the Task Force on New Americans. “Despite their countless contributions, they still face many unique barriers. The DREAM Act will help break down one of these critical barriers and ensure that our immigrant youth are able to achieve academic success and fully participate in the state’s economy.”
But opponents say it’s unfair because it diverts money away from students who are in the country legally. Critics, including Republican State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, has said members of his party are solidly opposed to the DREAM Act. He said last year that the role of state lawmakers is to “make sure we’re taking care of the hard-working middle-class taxpayers who are struggling right now.”
Supporters say it’s a false choice to say that immigrants must suffer if legal residents are to prosper. President Donald Trump’s administration calls the immigrant situation in the country a crisis, which Trump has been saying for most of the past three years. Ironically, polls show that more people now believe immigration is a “good thing” for the country rather than a bad thing.
State Sen. Luis Sepúlveda endorsed that notion on the floor of the state Senate when discussing the legislation. “We don’t have too many immigrants; we actually need more immigrants to meet the needs of our economy,” he said. “Current data indicates that we should be admitting at least a million more immigrants a year than we currently do in the United States. The notion that undocumented immigrants do not pay their fair share in taxes, is a myth. In fact, in this community the Dreamers contribute $115 million to state and local governments, they contribute over $40 billion to the state’s GDP. And what do they get in return? Very little.”
He went on to say that immigrants are especially vital to the economic health of New York, citing a 2018 study shows that New York gets a bigger boost from hard-working immigrants than any other state in this nation. Immigrants make up 25% of the New York labor force, adding roughly $100 billion of consumer power to the state’s economy.
On the floor of the Assembly Yohan Garcia, a Dreamer, said, “If the New York DREAM Act would have passed, since it was first introduced, all of us Dreamers would have had more opportunities to achieve our professional education faster and come closer to having equal access to the education we have worked so hard for. I strongly believe that students who are studying and working hard deserve an equal opportunity to obtain a higher education. Education is a human right; thus, I am more than glad that today we are working collectively to make sure that this right is granted to all undocumented youth in the State of New York.”
The cost of the New York Dream Act is said to be about $27,000, a drop in the bucket with a state budget that runs to $176 billion. The legislation does not create a path to citizenship for Dreamers, instead it offers possible assistance to help pay for college. Students who have grown up in New York school districts deserve a chance at a more complete life.